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Breaking the Mould

Literary Representations of Irish Catholicism

Series:

Eamon Maher and Eugene O'Brien

Catholicism has played a central role in Irish society for centuries. It is sometimes perceived in a negative light, being associated with repression, antiquated morality and a warped view of sexuality. However, there are also the positive aspects that Catholicism brought to bear on Irish culture, such as the beauty of its rituals, education and health care, or concern for the poor and the underprivileged. Whatever their experience of Catholicism, writers of a certain generation could not escape its impact on their lives, an impact which is pervasive in the literature they produced.
This study, containing twelve chapters written by a range of distinguished literary experts and emerging scholars, explores in a systematic manner the cross-fertilisation between Catholicism and Irish/Irish-American literature written in English. The figures addressed in the book include James Joyce, Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, Kate O’Brien, Edwin O’Connor, Brian Moore, John McGahern, Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Vincent Carroll and Brian Friel. This book will serve to underline the complex relationship between creative writers and the once all-powerful religious Establishment.

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EUGENE O’BRIEN ‘Any Catholics among you …?’: Seamus Heaney and the Real of Catholicism 159

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Eugene O’Brien ‘Any Catholics among you …?’: Seamus Heaney and the Real of Catholicism ‘Religion’s never mentioned here,’ of course. ‘You know them by their eyes,’ and hold your tongue. ‘One side’s as bad as the other,’ never worse. Christ, it’s near time that some small leak was sprung In the great dykes the Dutchman made To dam the dangerous tide that followed Seamus. Yet for all this art and sedentary trade I am incapable.1 So begins section III of Seamus Heaney’s poem, ‘Whatever You Say Say Nothing’, in North, and the dialectical relationship between the words ‘never mentioned,’ and the paradoxical title of the poem, which urges enuncia- tion but cautions against enunciating anything specific, will be very much the locus of this particular chapter. I hope to analyse the ways in which Heaney could be described as a Catholic poet; to understand the polysemic resonances of that proper adjective-common noun combination in this description; to probe the f luid epistemological status of the Catholicism in question and, also, to unpack the ideological and hegemonic meanings that accrete to those terms. I will argue that the reason that religion is never mentioned in the ‘here’ of the Northern Ireland of the Troubles is because it constitutes the Lacanian real in its ef fect on people and, as such, it is only accessible through the glancing, anamorphic perspective of the language of poetry which looks awry at the language of society, culture and ideology in order...

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